Bulls

What injuries? Bulls soldier on

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What injuries? Bulls soldier on

CLEVELANDAlthough Taj Gibson and John Lucas III were just nicked up, according to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, the fact that his players didnt leave the Quicken Loans Arena completely unscathed had to be worrisome. Right?

Right? Not if you ask Thibodeau, whos already missing reigning league MVP Derrick Rose. The coach, when asked (again) about Roses status, gave his explanation on the thought process.

Thats not the way I think. The way I think is this: Only Derrick knows the way he feels and so, when Derrick feels like he can play, hell play. If he feels like he cant, he wont, he explained. Were very confident that we have more than enough to win with and somehow theres this notion out there that, this team you should beat. It doesnt work like that in the NBA. In the NBA, every team is capable of beating you, so youve got to be ready every night and whoevers ready to go, thats who you go with and thats what were going to continue to do.

Day-to-day. Theyre nicked up a little bit, but theyll be fine, Thibodeau added. Bulls team trainer Fred Tedeschi will have a better read on it Saturday.

Lucas, while grimacing, insisted hed be fine for Saturdays home tilt against Charlotte, after Fridays win, to which he contributed nine second-quarter points before exiting with a strained left groin. Gibson, on the other hand, was in a walking boot in the locker room after suffering a sprained left ankle.

Just stepped on somebodys foot trying to go for a rebound, Gibson told CSNChicago.com. I could play tomorrow probably, but well have to wait and see.

It wouldnt be surprising to see Gibson rest Saturday and with the addition of veteran point guard Mike James, Lucas take a more limited role. The Bulls depth gives them the luxury of being cautious in this shortened season, even if the leagues reigning MVP is out of the lineup.

The main thing is really having everyone healthy. You want to have everyone out there every night, but youve got to be smart. I never question anyone on this team when theyre hurt. When theyre hurt, theyre hurt. Everyone knows that were a deep team, said Luol Deng. Weve got guys that are doing a good job of stepping up and with Derrick, as important as he is to our team, weve got to be smart in just making sure that hes 100 percent before he steps out there.

NBA power rankings: Antetokounmpo and Bucks keep up 14 game win streak

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USA Today

NBA power rankings: Antetokounmpo and Bucks keep up 14 game win streak

With the NBA season hitting the quarter pole, it’s a good time to check in on how the MVP race is shaping up.

After blowing a two games to none lead against Toronto in last spring’s Eastern Conference Finals, Giannis Antetokounmpo vowed to come back better than ever this season, and he’s done exactly that, improving his averages in points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage and 3-point shooting percentage.

The one knock on Antetokounmpo had been his lack of a consistent outside shot, and while he’s still only shooting 31.6% from beyond the arc, he’s made at least three shots from long distance in three of his last seven games.

The Bucks are currently riding a 14 game winning streak after blowing out a very good Clippers’ team at Fiserv Forum last Friday. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers even joked about the result, saying, “It was Giannis’ 25th birthday, and we searched all over the city to find a gift, and we couldn’t find one, so we gave him this one. That’s all I can come up with because we were awful.”

Antetokounmpo still has to prove he can get the Bucks to the Finals, but through the first 23 games, he’s clearly the favorite to win his 2nd straight MVP award.

LeBron James’ Lakers are actually a half game ahead of the Bucks for the NBA’s best record at the start of the new week. James leads the NBA in assists, something that hasn’t been done by a player who doesn’t play the guard position since Wilt Chamberlain. James would rank 2nd on my MVP rankings at the quarter pole.

I wrote about Luka Doncic in last week’s power rankings, and after averaging a triple double in November and leading the Mavericks to an unexpected strong start in the West, Luka would be number three, followed by NBA scoring leader James Harden and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam.

Now on to this week’s rankings. Check them out here. 

Without linear growth, the silver linings of Bulls' loss to Heat ring hollow

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USA Today

Without linear growth, the silver linings of Bulls' loss to Heat ring hollow

Trailing the Heat 108-105 with four seconds remaining in overtime, the ball found Lauri Markkanen. He was pinned in the corner and leaning away from the basket, but still, he got a clean 3-point attempt off. If the shot fell, it would have tied the game.

But it didn't. Instead, the high-arching jumper clanged off the side of the rim. And when it did, Coby White — who enjoyed, in many ways, a career performance in this game — slumped over. The response befitted the performance.

"Nobody likes to lose. We're not happy with the loss," Jim Boylen said. "I got a frustrated group of guys in there that want to win."

It's a defeat that, on its face, should be swallowable. In it, the Bulls played one of the league's best teams in the Heat down to the wire, in an arena they haven't lost in this season. 

The silver linings were abundant: The Bulls won the first quarter, an area Boylen has often emphasized. They got standout performances from Markkanen (team-high 22 points), Kris Dunn (16 points, three steals, 6-for-9 shooting) and White (11 points, eight assists, 3-for-7 from 3-point range, closed the fourth quarter and OT). They outshot one of the NBA's most prolific offenses and held Jimmy Butler to 3-for-14 shooting. Sure, he went to the free throw line 21 times, but he also didn't break the Bulls' back with clutch buckets down the stretch.

"It's real hard. But we gave them some game goals, and they accomplished them," Boylen said. "First quarter start. Be more physical. For the most part, our defensive rebounding was really good. Our transition D was really good. Our physicality was good. We moved the ball, we executed. We ran things to get open shots.

"We did a lot of really good thing and that's what I have to look at. Ultimately, you want to win. I cannot take away from the good things we do and the growth we're making. But it hurts."

Yet, something feels especially hollow about this loss. Even sour. But perhaps that's more about what came before tonight. Talk of growth doesn't resonate without assurance that said growth will continue to occur lineally, and that hasn't happened for the Bulls. Just last week, they sparked their first win streak of the season with victories over the Kings and Grizzlies. Steps forward. Then, a massive step back in falling to the 5-19 Warriors on Friday.

The tropes that pervaded the Golden State game reared their head again tonight. Zach LaVine was 1-for-6 between the fourth quarter and overtime. Loose balls found the wrong hands. Crucial defensive lapses late aided Tyler Herro nailing four 3-pointers (including the eventual game-winner) over the game's last six minutes.

"The one that [Herro] put up before the overtime, Shaq actually did a good job on [Butler] defensively and I thought [Butler] was gonna shoot the ball, so I went in there and crashed," Dunn said of the 3-pointer Herro hit to put the Heat up 97-95 with 7.1 seconds left in regulation. "[Butler] made an unselfish play, a great play out to Tyler Herro and he knocked it down... Jimmy does draw a lot of attention, he's a good player, but we have to be defensively sound. And, for me, that last play before the overtime, that was on me."

At 8-16, the Bulls simply can't afford to be happy with an 'encouraging' loss, even if they wish they could be. The balance of finding and taking the positives from this defeat while at the same reconciling that this season is escaping them is a difficult one.

"[Winning] is important, but I have to measure this — third-youngest team in the league, this young group — in other ways than that. I have to. That's what we're building, that's what we're developing," Boylen said.

"Definitely frustrated to lose, but we played well, a lot of guys played well," Dunn said. "Good thing about the NBA, games come quick... Tomorrow, we play Toronto at home so hopefully bring the same intensity and get the win there."

If that win is of the moral variety, the burning issues facing this team aren't like to dissipate soon.

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